How do you demonstrate you know how a foreign-language word is pronounced without demonstrating that you’re an asshole? Here we introduce the Bruschetta method!
You sit down at the Italian joint, order your negroni, and grab the menu off the red-and-white gingham tablecloth in front of you. The antipasti are there at the top left, and before long, you’re ready to suggest a starter. But you’re not quite sure how to say it—or play it.
BruSHetta? BrusKetta? BruSKEHtta?!
Based on an extensive peer-reviewed study titled, “Listening to Random Americans I Both Know and Don’t Know Saying It,” I feel comfortable declaring that most would suggest to their table that they share a plate of “bruSHETTA.” There’s a ‘C’ in the word—bruschetta—but the ‘S’ usually dominates an ‘SC’ in English (muscle). In Italian, the ‘CH’ creates a hard ‘C’. The “SH” is highly common, though, and also wrong, and wrong in such a way that it does betray what you do not know.
Now, somebody once advised against mocking someone for mispronouncing a word because they likely learnt it reading. And maybe you don’t give a flying focaccia how the Italianos say it. But just in case you do possess the thin skin of an effete cosmopolitan always out to impress, here’s a little procedure to show you’re an American of culture without doing too much. After all, nobody wants to be the guy shouting “bruSKEHHHtta!” at a waitress, either. You want the ‘SK’ without the ostentatious accento (and, we can only assume, pinching your fingers in upward triangles). You’ve got to find exactly the right balance to show you know how the word is pronounced without showing that you’re an asshole.
You want “bru-SKETTA.” Call it the Bruschetta Method.
Take a word like croissant, a real landmine we took from the French. (The many words English has borrowed from other languages are sometimes known as “loanwords.” Think macho, or schadenfreude.) You’re at the coffee shop, you just took out a second mortgage to pay for your latte, and you figure you might as well put this line of credit to use on a pastry as well. But do you go with “KWASSON”? Surely that’s a bridge too far. The guy in the apron is going to throw you a look. But you do have to demonstrate that you know it’s not “KROYCE-ant,” or something. You’ve got to find that balance, and it might come down to personal preference—how far you want to go. You could go the extra half-mile with “kWass-AUNT,” but I might suggest that, for hopefully the only time in your life, you follow the lead of Kanye West in the tellingly titled “I Am a God”: “Hurry up with my damn cruh-SAUNTS!”
Nobody wants to be the guy shouting “bruSKEHHHtta!” at a waitress.
There are decisions to be made all over the place. Do you grab the Spanish ‘Z’ by the horns in “Ibiza” and end up with “ih-BEETHA”? I can’t recommend it, and I really can’t recommend going with the “EYE-BEETHA” you tend to hear on BBC Radio 1. (One of the great secrets of the modern age is that the Brits, whom we Americans consider more worldly by default, have a nasty habit of butchering foreign languages with a kind of imperial flair. Like all that land, they seem to think a word is now theirs as soon as they come across it.) Some, like “Gloucestershire,” aren’t much of a decision once you know how they go. (“GLOSS-ter-sure.”) Others are a learning process and then become a conundrum: do you go full dachshund when you meet your friend’s new puppy? Then there’s Havana, with its ‘B’-ish ‘V’. That’ll probably depend on whether you’re actually in Cuba, because you may not want to be rolling out “Ha-BAHN-a” this side of the Caribbean Sea. I’d sail clear of Ha-VANNE-a, though, too. That’s excessive gringo.
Sahara? You probably want to avoid “SaHAIRa” and get yourself some “HAHR,” and also leave the “Desert” off the back of it. (“Sahara” is “desert” in Arabic, which leaves you saying Desert Desert.) I grew up saying “Ha-WHY-YEE,” but that ain’t how the Hawaiians do it. Considering it’s an American state, the rest of us could make some sort of effort towards “Hawah-EE”—but perhaps without going all the way. Remember your training. And what about “gyro”? It’s not JY-roh, despite what you hear all over the place Stateside. In Greek, it’s “yee-roh,” though you’ll sometimes hear “jjjeero,” with a kind of ‘zh’ thing going on up front. That one’s a real crapshoot, man. Good luck at the food truck.
Ultimately, it’s about striking the right balance for you. If you’re a native speaker of the language in question, or even a Duo Lingo success story, you might go all out. It might also come down to who you’re dining with or travelling with or shooting the shit with. Are they friends of yours? Friends of your spouse? Her coworkers that she’s trying to impress? Your clients, who might be upper crust or hale-and-hearty? Are they happy-go-luckies or oozing put-upon sophistication? Are they from New Jersey? And do they have even the faintest idea how to really say “gnocchi”?
I can’t answer any of these questions for you. We’re all on our own journeys. Hopefully, yours will someday take you to Paris—very few Americaines can get away with “Pah-REE,” and that includes Netflix Emily—where you can sit down for lunch and find yourself eyeing a certain sandwich. The gears start turning again. The calculations send you spinning, mental math giving way to a fierce desire for a supercomputer. Is it “CROCK MONSYUR”? Surely not, no matter how much you might have loved Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds. But “KHrUHQUE MUHnSEEUUUHR”? Careful there, mon ami. You want to be the right kind of stranger in a strange land. You know the truth, the way, as well as your own limitations. It’s the wisdom of a worldly Americano—a citizen of the world who still knows the proper size of a kitchen appliance, if not how to measure it in centimetres.
From: Esquire US